Browncast – Episode 9: Conversation on Indo-Aryan linguistics

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

The conversation was between Brown Pundits’ contributors Razib, Zach and Slapstik on the evolution of Sanskrit and Indo-Aryan more generally within the Indian subcontinent. The conversation started off from thoughts on the origin of Sanskrit from Proto-Indo-Aryan, the language of the feudal elite of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (or BMAC).

We spoke of the broad swathe of time from (roughly) 1500-500 BCE wherein this elite planted themselves across the breadth of the Indo-Gangetic plains south of the Himalayas (cf. hima-vanta > himavata). The peculiarities of the obstinately oral culture led to phenomenal developments in grammar (vyAkaraNa) to preserve the fidelity of speech. We also briefly covered some peculiarities of development of prkRta-s which show influence of Dravidian speech, the Indo-Aryan nature of Dardic languages and some comments on Iranic languages.

One of the important questions raised by Zach was on the parallel development of Mitanni-Aryan. Specifically why doesn’t its existence prove an outward diffusion of Indo-Aryan dialects? While I did not want to de-rail the conversation in the podcast with a technical argument (based on the RUKI rule), I think this point does deserve some supplementary explanation here. The basic argument can be set out as follows:

  • Retroflexes in earliest Vedic were almost always phonemic (pUrNa), and it is well established within IA linguistics that retroflexion existed before the loss of voiced sibilants /z/, /ź/ and /Z/ in proto-Vedic. So, we have PIE *misdhom (salary, reward) > *mizdhom (IIr, voiced sibilant) > *miźdhom  (IIr, via satem RUKI sound law) > *miZDham (Proto-Vedic, using sibilant-dental consonant saMdhi)
  • We also know that Proto-Dravidian lacked sibilants and replaced the phonemic voiced-sibilants by their approximants /y/ or /w/, which later merged with the preceding vowel. So, the effect of Dravidian substratum on proto-Vedic *miZDham is given by: *miZDham > *mi(y)Dham > mIDham, and mIDham is attested in Rg Veda as meaning reward or prize of a contest.
  • The same word (meaning payment) is also attested in Mitanni-Aryan as miśta, which seems to be easily derivable from IIr *miźdhom via simple de-voicing of /ź/ and de-aspiration of /dh/. There’s no known rule or precedent of deriving miśta from IA mIDham. Even using the latter-day example of Romany languages, the aspirated retroflex /Dh/ should be approximated by /r/, which is clearly not the case here.

Therefore, the simplest explanation of miśta in Mitanni-Aryan and its cognate mIDha in Vedic is that both terms are derivable using known sound laws from the older Indo-Iranian version of the word, as opposed to one from the other. The same argument also shows how retroflexion existed in oldest Vedic and that the simplest explanation of lack of voiced sibilants in Vedic is the substrate effect of Proto-Dravidian.

For readers more interested in this topic, I would suggest The Horse, The Wheel and Language by David Anthony on the archaeological evidence of steppe Indo-European culture. The book is very strong on archaeology, but it gets some of the linguistics’ arguments wrong. On linguistics itself, Cardona and Jain’s Indo-Aryan Linguistics remains the go-to text. Note that this book is more technical, but very rewarding.

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Supporting the Brown Pundits “BrownCast”

When Zach, Omar, and myself began the BrownCast I said that at some point we’d have to think about how we could make it self-supporting. Some people are already complaining about the production quality.

There’s a reason for that: I’ve been doing all the editing. I literally had never used Audacity before, and as most of you know I’m a geneticist, not a sound engineer.

For those of you who think no production is involved, listen to this clip I edited out from the most recent recording with myself, Slapstick, and Zach.

I would like to get a person who has skills and can devote time, to this project. I have someone in mind. But I’m already paying Zencastr bills out of pocket. So I’m asking listeners to chip in. Please consider giving to my Patreon. Since there is a wide range of abilities to pay I’m not stipulating a specific amount.

As a patron benefit, I have just posted links to the next two podcasts on Patreon. A podcast with Omar, Ali Minai, and Charles Cameron which focuses on Urdu literature and before shifting to artificial intelligence and the nature of Western culture is up. As well as another where Slapstick explains “generative grammar” in the context of Sanskrit.

We are unlikely to post podcasts more than once a week. But I often edit them together considerably earlier, so Patrons will get them in batches well before everyone else.

If you are not in a position to be a patron, please rate us positively on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 7, Sarah Haider, Islam, identity, and the “public life”

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

The guest this week is Sarah Haider. She is executive director of Ex-Muslims of North America.

Sarah and I are friends so I switched into a more informal register. The contrast between her very polished speaking style and my own is pretty striking and unsurprising. Also, please note that an outraged two year old child kept attempting to take over my home office, and you can hear him now and then.

If you want to hear more from her, please check out her speaking on YouTube.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 6, Chinese history, pop culture and strategy, with Tanner Greer

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

This week a very special episode of Brown Pundits’ BrownCast with Tanner Greer of The Scholar’s Stage, one of my favorite weblogs. If I’m a philosopher in the armchair, Tanner is a practitioner in the field. He lived for several years in China, and his observations have a contemporary salience that our discussion last week probably lacked.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 5, reflections on the Chinese age

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

One of the most offensive things I have had to personally encounter in my life are people curious that a brown-skinned person would express an interest in China for purely intellectual interests (i.e., my wife is not Chinese, I have no business interests in China, etc.). As this century proceeds I think everyone, whatever one’s background, needs to rebalance their perception of what they need to be interested in, because the simple world of European supremacy between 1850 and 2000 is fading away…

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Brown Pundits – Episode 4, three Hindus talk about the Golden Age of Islam

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

Note: Using the older context of Hindu.

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Brown Pundits – Episode 3, genetics

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed the podcast! Please leave more 5-star reviews. If this podcasts interests enough people I’ll be getting us on other platforms.

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Questions for the genetics of India podcast….

Zach, Omar, and myself will do a podcast on Indian genetics next week. I already did one on this topic for my main podcast, so I’m curious what readers of this weblog want to hear about. We can’t guarantee we’ll use the questions, but it’s possible. I think the format will mostly involve Zach and Omar leading the conversation and I’ll try to talk as fast and concisely as possible.

Also, we got our first review on iTunes. Would still like to get some on Stitcher. And in case people want to hear more from me, I was a guest on the Two for Tea podcast. My episode should drop in the next day or so.

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Brown Pundits Podcast #2 – Asia Bibi and Colorism

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

The title makes it clear what we talked about this week. It as a long podcast at more than one and a half hours. Would appreciate it if some people reviewed the podcast positively on iTunes and Stitcher.

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